Girard-Perregaux's Historic Battlefield Wristwatches
The first to discover the ease of use, soldiers and sailors set a timepiece trend that continues to this day.
February 25, 2013
While Breguet is on record as having created the first watch for the wrist, other long-standing brands, including Patek Philippe, ensued along the way, most often with a single watch. Constant Girard, cofounder of today’s Girard-Perregaux, was the first to create what is considered serial production of a wristwatch.
In 1879 during the International Fair of Berlin, the emperor of Germany, Kaiser Wilhelm I, placed an order with Constant Girard for watches for the wrists of German naval officers. The order was for two series, each of 1,000 pieces, which were produced and delivered in 1879. The watches were crafted in 14k gold so they would not rust and were worn on a chain around the wrist. They featured a metal grid over the dial and crystal to protect it from being damaged in use. The dial was black and the brownish-orange numerals were thought to be easy to read. Despite extensive efforts by Girard-Perregaux, to date not one of the original watches has been found. Nonetheless, this production represents the first important commercialization of wristwatches.
From then, wristwatches became favored for men at war as it was easier for them to use than to pull out a pocket watch while engaged in battle. Additionally, exposing a large and shiny pocket watch could make a soldier or sailor an easy target for enemy fire. Men, in general, though, did not fully come to embrace wristwatches until the second decade of the 20th century. Wempe, 700 Fifth Ave., 212-397-9000